Review: Jessica Jones by Jerry Whitworth
The latest series in the Defenders franchise emerging on Netflix in Jessica Jones premiered over the weekend. Based on the series Alias created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private investigator following her enslavement by the Purple Man, Zebediah Killgrave. Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and following Daredevil on Netflix (and which will be followed by the second season of Daredevil featuring the Punisher), the series centers around Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) trying to put her life back together as a private investigator after her enslavement by the villainous Kilgrave (David Tennant) who can seemingly control minds. It features the first live action adaptation of Jessica Jones and the Purple Man and both sets itself within the setting of Daredevil as well as setting the stage for the next series in the Defenders franchise Luke Cage (where filming began in September 2015 and is scheduled for release sometime in 2016). As such, it inherits the darker tone of this world largely absent in much of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe like the films and other series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. From this point, the review will feature SPOILERS toward the material presented in Jessica Jones.
Just as with Daredevil, Jessica Jones premiered with thirteen episodes set within Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. The series also seemingly plays by similar rules in that the first episode sets the complication by which the season develops where Daredevil had the murder case of Karen Page and Jessica Jones the murder investigation around Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty). Where it slightly differentiates is that Matt Murdock (who is, of course, Daredevil) and Foggy Nelson defended Karen, Hope is represented by legal shark Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). In this, while Daredevil dons his mask and tries to find a means to exonerate his client, Jessica Jones takes to the street neither hiding or calling attention to her superhuman strength for her client’s daughter (albeit Daredevil garners results quickly while Jones takes most of the season in her quest). Further, the initial episode also sets the season foe as Daredevil establishes Kingpin and his axis of evil and Jessica Jones sets the return of Kilgrave into the heroine’s life. However, where Daredevil became something of a parade of graphic violence, Jessica Jones (at least initially) adopted a more sexual tone. What makes this turnabout interesting is while many heroines are often portrayed in a sexualized manner, the character of Jessica Jones is distinctly almost asexual in her presentation not prescribing to any male or female norms. In fact, while foster sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and lawyer Jeri Hogarth may dress feminine, their characters don’t subscribe to common tropes. And yet, they form a trinity of sexual encounters within the series with partners Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Will Simpson (Wil Traval), and Pam (Susie Abromeit) which in a manner turns the perception of the superhero genre on its ear (sexually repressed male power fantasies subverted toward sexually fulfilled female liberated observances of equality). Where Jessica Jones maybe hurt in its first season is its relation to Daredevil.
Simply put, Daredevil was brilliant. It was like a mixed bag of Shakespearean tragedy and Hong Kong martial action sprinkled with comedy set to film noir. Jessica Jones had many of these elements but its execution was slightly less than Daredevil, and by following Daredevil it takes what would have been a great series and makes it seem not as good which is exceedingly unfair. Simply put, Jessica Jones shouldn’t be compared to Daredevil, but not only is it in the Defenders franchise, it’s tied to Daredevil directly and even its story as noted follows similar beats. In other words, it can’t help but be compared to Daredevil which hurts it by association. Likely the biggest issue that arose over the course of the series was its reliance on Kilgrave. From the first episode to its final, Kilgrave was the threat and only deviated slightly from time to time. And while Kingpin was cast in a similar role in Daredevil, as noted Kingpin had a den of villains to rely upon giving the title character not just Wilson Fisk as an opponent but the Russians, Hand, and Triad. Jessica Jones in a manner began to run out of steam 2/3 of the way into the season where Will Simpson quickly transitions into Nuke and Kilgrave’s powers are significantly boosted (to seemingly limited effect storywise). It felt like the writers were running out of paths they could take to produce thirteen episodes and had to start pulling out elements to fill in the time. While this advent gave us the fight between Jessica and Trish with Nuke, Jessica with Luke, and Jessica vs. a hospital of hapless drones, it hurt the narrative. For Jessica Jones, it felt like thirteen episodes was either too long to feature one overarching foe or too short to introduce several opponents. However, again bringing up Daredevil, its been shown it can not only be done, it can be done quite well. In this way, Jessica Jones suffered. But again, it’s still a good series.
If there was an element in which Jessica Jones performed perfectly on, it’s the setting of the mood. Until Kilgrave made a full body appearance in the present day, the use of purple in the background made him an ever present entity (even after he appeared, purple was a reoccurring theme that would decline when Jessica was around those who seemingly eased her burden). You could see how deeply ingrained the character was in the world around Jessica, where scenes such as Jessica sitting on a fire escape as the sign behind her changes color to purple and Kilgrave enters the frame or when she’s sleeping at her desk and Kilgrave sweeps away her hair and licks her face that he had an almost boogeyman persona in the early part of the season. Kilgrave felt more like Freddy Krueger only to then transition into a sympathetic, forlorn romantic who is seeking acceptance in a manner like Labyrinth‘s Jareth and to finally settle into a Hannibal Lecter role as intelligent, ruthless, and completely without morals (intermittently, the character also seems to bare some shades of the Joker especially toward the love/hate relationship with Jessica). While the writing deserves credit in this manner, it’s without doubt the portrayal by David Tennant became the anchor of this production. If the season was to indeed be a satellite circling around one character, Tennant played this part beautifully becoming almost different characters as the show progressed transforming into whatever he needed to become so that Jessica Jones could change and adapt to cover up the cracks of its pitfalls.
One of the ongoing themes within the show was the parallel lives of the characters around Jessica pulled into her story, such as siblings Ruben (Kieran Mulcare) and Robyn (Colby Minifie) and the married couple Jeri Hogarth and Wendy Ross-Hogarth (Robin Weigert). In very much the same way Deborah Ann Woll was a revelation in Daredevil as Karen Page, Carrie-Anne Moss gave a powerful performance as Jeri Hogarth. Introduced as a major player in corporate law, Jeri was often referred as a shark by Jessica and was presented as almost robot-like in her execution. However, the revelation of her affair with her assistant Pam and then divorce with her wife, the facade ever slightly began to crack. While maintaining a strong disposition, the trials of her personal life and the trouble brought into her life by Jessica chipped away at her. To the credit of the writing and her portrayal though, Jeri didn’t break even as her wife was killed by Pam (though, obviously, her experience with Kilgrave took its toll which Moss played to perfectly). Jessica Jones saw Jeri, very much a secondary character, walk through fire and may have very well found even more strength from the ordeal by the finale when she protected Jessica for the murder of Kilgrave. The work from Robin Weigert as Jeri’s wife Wendy should not be discounted, either. If Jeri was a strong woman undergoing a grueling trial, Wendy played a proud, wounded woman who was deeply cut by the betrayal of the love of her life. Arguably her strongest scene was her last when Kilgrave pulled away the veil between the married couple and they were allowed to be something more than desperate opponents (which resulted in the powerful death by a thousand cuts sequence).
With the death of Kilgrave, while the character may still bounce around inside the head of Jessica Jones, it means moving forward he can no longer be a crutch to support the show. Which in a way is a shame. While unfortunate the character had to see his story begin and end in the first season, the writers put themselves into this position by making Kilgrave so powerful by the finale. One can’t help but wonder had he remained at the same power level if a story could have emerged with him being incarcerated and used as an asset moving forward (though, for a series already deeply embedded in the shadow of Daredevil, this turn would have been yet another beat mirroring its forebearer). Still, Nuke and his ties to Dr. Koslov (Thomas Kopache) and IGH will undoubtedly be central to a second season should it emerge. Likely the cause of Jessica’s powers, it will certainly mean Dorothy Walker (Rebecca De Mornay) inserting herself into her daughter’s life and could see Trish transition into the role of Hellcat considering the kick she got out of taking Nuke’s red pill (and her past demons with drug abuse). There is also the other subjects grouped with Kilgrave when his parents experimented upon him. One could surmise the USB memory stick given to Luke Cage connected to his deceased wife Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley) will be the catalyst for his series. While likely this will lead to Cage seeking out those connected to the videos therein (which would introduce Cage having to combat super powered opponents), it could lead more into his backstory around the experiment which gave him his powers. The series also has a mixed bag of references that could be played up later, from Jessica having a rival in the P.I. game in Angela Del Toro (White Tiger in the comics) and what may have been a headshot of Misty Knight as a possibly guard for Kilgrave (or just wishful thinking).